Facebook lifted Australia ban, Uniqlo rules all, secret parachute message

Australia has passed its online news payment law.
Australia has passed its online news payment law.
Image: AAP Image/Lukas Coch/via Reuters

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Here’s what you need to know

Facebook reversed its Australian news ban. Users down under have been denied proper journalism on the site since Thursday (Feb. 18), because of a dispute over a proposed bill.

Toyota is building a smart city. The company plans to use Woven City to test autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and robots.

Germany claimed China went after its Hong Kong residents. As one example, Chinese state actors filmed participants at a pro-Hong Kong protest in Germany in 2019.

The US is about to get a lot more vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna said they’ll be able to deliver 140 million more doses by the end of March.

Reliance Industries is spinning off its oil-to-chemicals operation. The move will make it easier for Saudi Arabia’s Aramco to buy a stake in the business.

Amazon India partnered with Mahindra for electric delivery vehicles. Close to 100 three-wheelers are on the road in seven cities.

The Philippines will trade nurses for vaccines from the UK and Germany. Many nurses aren’t happy about being used as a bargaining chip.

What to watch for

A “Herculean task” to “revive South Africa’s economy” in its most “important budget yet.” That’s what headlines are telling us about the fiscal plan that will be laid out today by the country’s finance minister Tito Mboweni.

South Africa was already facing high unemployment, debt, and a sluggish economy even before the coronavirus pandemic. Analysts are looking for Mboweni to provide direction on how the country plans to deal with its:

💉 Vaccine rollout program: The government is aiming to vaccinate two-thirds of the population by the end of year year at a cost of R24 billion.

📈 Deficits in public finance: This includes debt projected to peak at 95.3% of GDP by 2026.

💸 Tax revenues: Only a small percentage of the country pays tax, so any effort to finance the government’s coffers by increasing taxes will be unpopular.

💡 State-owned enterprises: Companies like Eskom have been sapping government finances—the deeply unstable electricity provider is the culprit behind extensive and ongoing blackouts. How the government plans to deal with these companies will be critical.

Charting Uniqlo’s rise to supremacy

Japanese clothing company Fast Retailing just surpassed Zara’s Spanish owner Inditex to become the world’s most valuable clothier, thanks to its Uniqlo brand. Fast Retailing’s market capitalization of $105.6 billion has eclipsed Inditex’s $98.2 billion, and rivals like H&M, Nike, and LVMH trail them both significantly.

A bar chart that shows as of Feb. 22, 2021, the market capitalization of Fast Retailing was $105.6 billion, the market cap of Inditex was $98.2 billion, the market cap of HandM was $35.1 billion, the market cap of Gap was $9.3 billion, and the market cap of PVH Corp. was $6.9 billion.

While Zara and H&M still lead in sales, Fast Retailing has seen its stock rise since April as its competitors’ valuations fluctuated wildly, and the company’s growth in China and India is yet another cause for optimism.

Your next video meeting could look like Burning Man

A crowd of about 40 colorful avatars gathers around a drawing of a burning wooden sculpture, while Topia users chat in video feeds arranged along the top and bottom of the screen.
Not quite as thrilling as torching a sculpture in real life, but in a pandemic it’ll have to do.
Image: Courtesy of Topia

Last April, the organizers of Burning Man canceled all in-person revelry because of the pandemic, opting for a festival using Topia, a virtual meeting app where virtual Burners built virtual versions of their festival campsites.

The app, which was founded by former Burning Man employees, now wants in on your next office meeting.

Topia bills itself as a more sociable alternative to Zoom, and is one of many startups racing to create more realistic social experiences online. The pandemic kickstarted a market boom for conferencing apps, and now Topia wants to charge organizations a $5 monthly fee to create their own digital real estate.

✦ When we throw a virtual festival, you’ll definitely be invited. Try a Quartz membership free for a week.

Surprising discoveries

We’re so bad at envisioning icebergs. Little pyramids with an elongated submerged body would simply roll over.

A software bug is keeping some Arizona prisoners behind bars too long. The program wasn’t updated after a 2019 law made it easier for certain inmates to earn early release.

Scientists used wasp nests to date Australia’s oldest rock art. It’s a more than 17,000-year-old kangaroo painting.

Minnesota won’t let residents vote to name a snow plow “Abolish ICE.” But “Plowy McPlowface” and “Raspberry Brrr-et” still have a shot.

Perseverance’s parachute hid a message in binary code. Translating the colors to ones and zeroes spells out JPL’s slogan “Dare mighty things” and the GPS coordinates of its offices.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, ‘roo art, and proper iceberg sketches to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our iOS app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Jordan Lebeau, Nico Rivero, Jackie Bischof, Susan Howson, and Liz Webber.